Cushion-Cut Diamonds: the Complete Buying Guide
Read about the pros and cons of cushion-cut diamonds and how they stack up against round and princess cuts. Then, learn how to judge the quality of a cushion-cut diamond and choose the perfect one for your engagement ring.
Pros and Cons of a Cushion-Cut Diamond Engagement Ring
Cushion-cut diamonds have a timeless and classic appeal, with soft, rounded edges that no other shape can rival. They’re also the cut with the most dispersion, or fire. If you love those colored flashes of light coming from a diamond, you’ll cherish a cushion-cut diamond engagement ring.
Still, cushions have a downside. Being one of the deeper cuts, they have a smaller face-up size than most shapes. That means you might want to look for a stone with a slightly larger carat weight.
Cushion-Cut Diamond vs Round-Cut Diamond
However, the major advantage to choosing a cushion-cut diamond is its price. Like other fancy shapes, choosing a cushion over a round can save you over 25%! For example, the James Allen rose gold solitaires shown below differ in price by nearly $1,000 ($5,120 for round, $4,140 for cushion). The difference doesn’t come from the specs. They’re both 1-ct, I color, VS2 stones, so the difference in price comes primarily from their shape.
Cushion-Cut Diamond vs Princess-Cut Diamond
The most important factor in choosing a diamond shape is style. Either you love it or you don’t. Cushions are great for soft halos and vintage settings, while the sharp edges of princess-cut diamonds give them a modern appearance. Princess-cut diamonds make for beautiful, geometric three-stone rings and edgy solitaires.
Because of the popularity of the princess cut, you can save a little money by choosing a cushion. However, the cushion will appear slightly smaller than the princess-cut diamond. This is because your eye automatically looks at the longest length, from corner to corner. Since cushion-cut diamonds have rounded corners, they appear smaller.
Judging the Cut in Cushion-Cut Diamonds
With a silhouette that resembles a pillow, the cushion’s unique shape is one of the most complicated for first-time diamond buyers. Keep in mind that judging cut quality in a cushion-cut diamond isn’t an exact science. What’s most important is that you like the stone’s look and performance.
Standard and Modified Brilliant Cushion Cuts
Unlike most other fancy shapes, cushions can be created from several different cut patterns. Although you’ll find the standard cut in older diamonds, it’s still used today. In the 1920s, a new modified cushion entered the market, with an extra row of facets below the girdle. So, when you’re searching, you may see the description “cushion modified.” This is still a cushion-cut diamond.
However, whether the diamond has a standard or modified cushion cut doesn’t have a direct impact on its beauty or performance. Either type can have great or poor performance. Furthermore, both cuts can display each of the two “looks” for a cushion-cut diamond.
“Chunky” and “Crushed Ice”
While looking for your perfect cushion, you’ll notice that there are two different “looks” for a cushion-cut diamond. Some will let you see the back facets and light reflections in broad flashes. These are lovingly called “chunky” cushions.
Some cushion-cut diamonds have an appearance similar to crushed ice or broken glass. Here, the back facets aren’t distinct. Instead, you’ll see a glittering effect of many tiny reflections.
This is the biggest aesthetic concern for a cushion-cut diamond. Take some time to peruse the pictures and examine the performance of these examples to help you decide which of these looks you like better.
Another major aesthetic decision in a cushion-cut diamond is whether you prefer a square or rectangle shape. While most available diamonds are square, rectangles have the advantage of appearing larger for their carat weight.
You’ll want to look at the length-to-width ratio (L/W) for cushion cuts. Square shapes should have an L/W of 1.00 to 1.05. Rectangular shapes should be significantly — but not overly — elongated, with L/W of 1.15 to 1.20. Avoid the L/W “awkward zone” of 1.06 to 1.10. The shape of these diamonds looks too square to be rectangular and too rectangular to be square. Take a look at these cushions from James Allen with a wide range of L/W.
Elongated cushion-cut diamonds are less common than square shapes and, thus, harder to find in high quality. Be prepared to do some searching if you’re shopping for an elongated cushion.
Cushion-cut diamonds can range from nearly round to nearly square. You’ll want one that’s an attractive middle ground, with rounded corners and slightly curved sides. It’s essential to have a good image of the diamond to see its shape clearly. If the shape appears off, don’t buy it. A laboratory report won’t tell you anything about shape.
Here are three particularly extreme cushion shapes from James Allen.
Depth and Table
For the best performance, limit your search to diamonds with both depth percentage and table percentage under 70%. This won’t eliminate all poorly performing diamonds, but it will make your search easier. Make sure you review video of each diamond you consider to ensure it performs well.
Hearts and Arrows
If you’re looking for the best possible cut, you may be drawn to cushion-cut diamonds with Hearts and Arrows. While these cushions have great performance, cushion-cut diamonds without the hearts-and-arrows pattern can also perform brilliantly. Furthermore, only “chunky” cushions will show this design. If you prefer “crushed ice,” don’t get a Hearts and Arrows cushion.
Best Color for Cushion-Cut Diamonds
While cut quality is the most important factor in a diamond’s beauty, you’ll also want to consider the diamond’s color grade. Cushion shapes show more color than a round brilliant, but their brilliance and dispersion helps to hide color.
For a cushion-cut diamond set in a white gold engagement ring, stick to a color grade of H or higher. If you have a tight budget, you can drop to an I or even some J color diamonds and still have a white look.
In rose gold and yellow gold rings, I and J color diamonds will give you a better price point and will still appear white. K color cushions will have a slight tint, which can work well for vintage styles.
Clarity in Cushion-Cut Diamonds
Eye-visible clarity imperfections can ruin the appearance of a cushion-cut diamond. However, the brilliance of a cushion will hide imperfections well. For the best price point, stick to VS2 and SI1 clarity grades. If you need to stretch your budget, plenty of cushion-cut diamonds with an SI2 clarity grade will appear clean to the eye. Even some I1 diamonds (like this beauty) will be eye-clean.
For SI1 and SI2 diamonds, look closely at the diamond and be sure that the imperfections aren’t large, dark, and in the center of the stone. These are the most noticeable. If you’re not sure whether your cushion will be eye-clean, review the diamond with an expert. They can help you determine whether clarity imperfections will be visible or impact the diamond’s durability.
Where to Buy a Cushion-Cut Diamond Engagement Ring
With cushion-cut diamonds, it’s essential to review images and video to make sure your diamond is up to your standards. There’s no way to tell from a grade report whether the diamond has a “chunky” or “crushed ice” look. The report also can’t tell you if the shape is off.
While both have extensive diamond databases, James Allen has many more options for ring settings. Furthermore, James Allen allows you to see ring and diamond combinations that other customers have purchased. This will help you get a better idea of the finished engagement ring.
However, Blue Nile has one advantage over James Allen for cushion-cut diamonds. Blue Nile’s search allows you to limit the L/W ratio. If you’re looking for an elongated cushion-cut diamond, Blue Nile might be a better option.
If you just can’t seem to find what you’re looking for, check out CustomMade. Their experts can help you find the perfect cushion center stone and place it in a ring that’s truly unique. With their guidance, you can create your dream ring.